The following remembrance of Bernard Fox is an excerpt from the January 2017 edition of The eBullet.
May 11, 1927 -December 14, 2016
Bernard Fox, Mayberry’s charming “Englishster” Malcolm Merriweather died in Van Nuys, Calif., on December 14. He was 89.
The question really is how to even begin to capture the magic of Bernard’s life with mere words. His was a grand life, one lived with a rare combination of grace and gusto. He was the life of every party. If there wasn’t a party before he arrived, there certainly was one after he entered any setting!
Though he was in just three episodes of TAGS (“Andy’s English Valet,” “The Return of Malcolm Merriweather” and “Malcolm at the Crossroads”), Bernard’s Malcolm Merriweather has remained one of the most memorable and beloved of the entire series.
Bernard participated in numerous Mayberry cast reunion events from the mid-1990s through mid-2000s. From Michigan to Tennessee and from Ohio to North Carolina to Alabama and closer to home in California, Bernard always delighted Mayberry audiences.
Ever the hail fellow well met, Bernard became good friends with many fans over the years. He took a genuine interest in people and took the time to learn more about them. He was naturally curious, a quality that served him well in performing.
Not actually an Englishman, he was born Bernard Mitchell Lawson on May 11, 1927, in Port Talbot, South Wales, to Queenie Barrett and Gerald Lawson, both of whom were actors.
Bernard began his acting career at the age of 18 months, when he was carried on stage. By age of 14, he was an assistant manager of a theater. After his time in the Royal Navy, including dangerous duty on a minesweeper during World War II, he resumed his acting career. In 1952, he was invited to join London’s Whitehall Farce Players.
That work lead to broader theater work, both in London and around Europe. He met Jacquie Holt, an American actress and his future bride, when they were both performing in a production of The Amorous Prawn in Rome in 1959. (She played a Cockney maid, and he played a butler.)
Bernard’s theater performances garnered him accolades and attention that dovetailed with his first work in films. Bernard has the distinction of being the only actor to be appear in both A Night to Remember (1958, as crow’s nest lookout Frederick Fleet, who has the memorable line, “Iceberg dead ahead, sir!”) and 1997’s global blockbuster Titanic in which he played survivor Col. Archibald Gracie IV.
Bernard met TAGS writers Ray Saffian Allen and Harvey Bullock in 1957 when the two writers were working in London on “Dick and the Duchess” for CBS. After that series wrapped, Ray stayed in London to produce sitcoms for British TV, including “Three Live Wires,” which starred Bernard in all 26 episodes as a character named…Malcolm.
When Ray Allen eventually returned to America to pick up again writing for Danny Thomas and others, he told Bernard that if he ever came to America, he’d write a part in a show for him. Bernard did, and Ray did.
That led to more doors being opened and more folks in Hollywood lining up to cast Bernard as the outstanding new go-to actor for Englishman roles. Harvey Bullock was at the head of the line wanting to work with Bernard–writing all three Malcolm Merriweather episodes, which spanned from 1963 to 1965.
Bernard went on to play heavies in two movie comedies with Don Knotts: Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo (1977) and The Private Eyes (1980). Bernard also supplied the voice of the Chairmouse in The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under for Disney. And he traveled to the Sahara to film his role of wacky pilot Winston Havelock in The Mummy, a sequel-spawning hit of 1999.
Though always first and foremost Malcolm Merriweather in the hearts of Mayberry fans, the world beyond Mayberry probably knows and loves him even better for his recurring role as Dr. Bombay, the multi-costumed warlock on “Bewitched” and its sequel “Tabitha” (as well as a cameo in 1999 on the daytime soap opera “Passions”).
Before and during “Bewitched,” legions of TV fans also first enjoyed watching Bernard in his frequent visits to Stalag 13 as the hilariously pompous and bumbling Colonel Crittendon on “Hogan’s Heroes.”
The consummate character actor, Bernard could perform in any type of role, whether comedy or drama. Among his credits were episodes of top shows such as “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” “Perry Mason,” “McHale’s Navy,” “F Troop,” “The Wild, Wild West,” “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” “I Spy,” “Columbo,” “M*A*S*H,” “Simon & Simon” and “Murder She Wrote.” And it’s no surprise that Bernard could totally own a portrayal of Dr. Watson to anybody’s Sherlock Holmes, as he did with Stewart Grainger as Sherlock in 1972’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Even with all of his tremendous success in films, Bernard’s greatest performing love probably remained live theater.
In addition to his many stage productions in Great Britain and Europe before moving to America, Bernard performed numerous plays in North America, including 13 Rue de L’Amour on Broadway in 1978.
Bernard also wrote, directed, acted in and hosted A Night in an English Music Hall, a re-creation of a Victorian Music Hall at Santa Monica’s Mayfair Theatre from 1973 to 1978.
He later toured with his own one-man Miniature Music Hall with performances everywhere from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to an arts festival in Santa Fe to even the Queen Mary. He shared routines from his one-man show during his performances at Mayberry cast reunion shows–never failing to delight audiences.
After retiring from acting (an episode of “Dharma & Greg” in 2001 was his last film role), Bernard still performed bits from his Music Hall act for a range of audiences, including large public reunion gatherings for TAGS and “Bewitched.” And he remained in demand for a variety of public appearances and interviews pertaining to Titanic. He also focused on gardening and painting and enjoying time with his family and socializing with his many friends.
Bernard is survived by Jacquie, his wife of 55 years, daughter Amanda and two grandchildren. Daughter Valerie passed away in 2006. No funeral service is planned for Bernard, but there will be a party to celebrate his life. To that, we can all say, “Cheers to a jolly good fellow!”
Bernard has left us many happy memories and many marvelous performances for generations to enjoy. As Malcolm Merriweather, he taught us about bubble and squeak and roly poly pudding and how to make things out of rolled up newspapers and how to paint faces on eggs.
Bernard Fox, for all time, was indeed a real bobby dazzler.
Bernard Fox, “Weren’t you kind!”
Editor’s Note: We can’t recall with certainty who took the photographs above from the TAGS cast reunion in Nashville in 2001. We think either Karen Leonard or Bart Boatwright, both great photographers and friends of Bernard’s.